SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
In a week where Raw started its push towards Extreme Rules and Smackdown sorted out the fallout from Backlash, some hit and some missed. Lets take a closer look.
RAW ALL-STAR: FINN BALOR
When a wrestler gets publicly endorsed by someone like Paul Heyman, regardless of the role he is playing at the moment, it automatically adds to that wrestler’s credibility. On Monday, Heyman went out of his way to not only show his admiration for Finn Balor, but also expressed how much Brock Lesnar respects Balorl. Before and after Heyman entered the ring, Finn may have had his best performance on the mic in WWE to date, including his time in NXT. You can tell how much Finn’s confidence is growing week by week, and he carried himself like an absolute star on Raw. He made his intentions at Extreme Rules very clear and sent a direct message to Lesnar via Heyman. Although his match with Karl Anderson may have went a little longer than it should have based on how Balor is being booked, Finn fended off both of the Good Brothers to pick up an impressive victory. After seeing how Raw closed, it was clear that WWE is all in on Balor and it was good to see how he was portrayed following his loss to Roman Reigns last week. Whether he wins at Extreme Rules or not, Finn Balor will regain his Universal Championship sooner than later and WWE could be saving him for the Summerslam main event. Balor vs. Lesnar doesn’t seem too suitable for Great Balls of Fire.
RAW NOTABLE ALL-STAR: GOLDUST
Boy what a throwback the Goldust segment was, huh? It was so refreshing to see WWE allow Goldust to go back to his roots and regain his original personality. While I most certainly don’t see the character being as deranged as it was in the Attitude Era, Goldust can still work and be a formidable threat to babyfaces looking to make their way up the card. In what could be a swan-song type run, Dustin Runnels came straight through the screen on Raw and put in a tremendous effort reverting back to his old ways. What I loved so much was the spot where he was handed a script which he threw to the ground, claiming he was now the director of this story. Understanding that this will not lead to any major Universal Title angle, it was fantastic to see something different from the golden one.
*While I could nitpick the 6 minutes and 30 seconds of combined time for the Cruiserweights to work or the insignificance and clunkiness of Banks vs. Fox, I don’t think there were any poor performances of note this week. Everyone on the red brand did a great job and put on an overall entertaining show.
SMACKDOWN ALL-STAR: JINDER MAHAL
I have spoken in past articles about the importance of a newly crowned champion’s first TV appearance after his/her victory, and Jinder Mahal knocked it out of the park. Sure, did he repeat a lot of his rhetoric regarding Americans not respecting him? Yes, but keep in mind – His push is still less than 2 months old so he is being tasked with establishing his character while being champion. The entire celebration was executed extremely well and made Mahal look like a star. It was made very clear on Smackdown that WWE is invested in Mahal’s push as we rarely see that much effort put into a “Championship Celebration” segment. Between the native Hindi dancers, the pageantry of the performance and music, the decorative nature of the ring, and the over-the-top fireworks display, it really made for captivating television and something fans can sink their teeth into. Further, Jinder is getting main-event level heat from the fans in attendance. While his promos might be getting a little repetitive, his words are clearly resonating with WWE’s fan base. Whether we are booing Jinder because we find that his push is unfounded or because we are buying into his anti-America persona, he is getting the reactions that a top heel champion should be getting. It is still yet to be seen how long Mahal will carry the title or what he will make of this run, but this was a tremendous start that I am hoping they can build on.
SMACKDOWN UNDERPERFORMER: SHINSUKE NAKAMURA
Before anyone thinks I am knocking Shinsuke’s performance on Tuesday, please know that I have placed him here this week due to the way he was booked and the response that it garnered. So often when an new wrestler debuts, especially when it was as anticipated as Nakamura’s, WWE will set up a sting of squash matches and promos to help establish a character and move set that the mainstream audience can become familiar with. In this case, however, Nakamura went over 10 minutes at Backlash with a mid-card wrestler holding a poor win/loss record, and followed up with taking most of the offense Ziggler and Owens had to dish out on Tuesday. Nakamura is the King of Strong Style, yet is being portrayed as just another guy with how the match on Smackdown was constructed. Further, the crowd just doesn’t seem to be responding. Sure, everyone loves singing along to his entrance, but once the bell rang on Tuesday it was like pulling teeth just to get the live audience to chant Nakamura’s name. Without any showcase matches against someone like Aiden English, fans weren’t able to familiarize themselves with his signature spots like Good Vibrations and his jumping knee strike in the corner. Understanding that there is somewhat of a language barrier, WWE needed to do a better job of establishing just who and what Shinsuke Nakamura is. Following Backlash, Nakamura would have benefited from a clean and easy win but instead was defined down even further. We are nowhere near a point of no return, but WWE is slowly digging themselves into a hole that could be hard to get out of.
SMACKDOWN NOTABLE UNDERPERFORMERS: THE CREATIVE TEAM
One theme that rang true throughout the entire episode of Smackdown was how blatant the 50/50 booking has been. With Triple H openly talking about how there is no 50/50 booking mentality, it was hard to believe after watching Tuesday evening. Following a loss to The Usos at Backlash, Beezango picked up two quick singles wins only to lose when a tag title match was made. Sami Zayn shocked Baron Corbin again but Corbin followed his loss with a vicious attack after the match. The Welcoming Committee defeated Charlotte, Naomi, and Becky Lynch at Backlash but then was defeated on Tuesday. I understand that WWE needs to keep certain wrestlers strong but in doing so they are hindering everyone’s ability to pick up consistent momentum and watering down potential matchups by giving so much away on television. This problem goes hand in hand with so many champions getting pinned on television, but that is an entirely different discussion.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: ALL-STARS & UNDERPERFORMERS: Ambrose goes from goofy back to lunatic, Banks in limbo, Orton just blah, Ziggler shines